Saturday, January 3, 2015

Race Report: Frozen Sasquatch 50K

Last year, I ran this race for the first time and after a great experience, I signed up right after registration opened last year. Out of town races are really attractive once I've done them before because it makes the logistics so much easier like where to stay, where to eat, etc. Last year, race conditions were a lot different. We had 9F at the start and it warmed a whopping 40F during the race. This year, the forecast changed daily over the last week but always included warm, unseasonable temperatures and rain. I got into town early on Friday and picked up my shirt (a Patagonia 1/4 zip next-to-skin tech shirt...great as a base layer) and bib number at Robert's Running Shop in Charleston, WV and while there, got great advice on dinner. Once we got checked in to the hotel near Kanawha State Forest, we headed out to Lola's. It's a pizza shop in the middle of a residential neighborhood IN an old house. Really good! Super fresh ingredients and we first enjoyed a salad with roma tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette, a lightly fried square of gouda cheese...oh my. Before crashing for the night, we sat poolside while the kids played and caught up with friends who used to live in Ohio and were in town for the race.

This morning, the rain was already falling before we left the hotel and it was 37F with a forecast still predicted to head north to the upper 50s. Shorts, my brand new Hammer Nutrition tech tee, 5 Hammer Gels, 6 Hammer Endurolytes Extreme and a bottle of Heed equipped me with all I needed. About 10min prior to the start, we received final instructions from race director, Mike Dolin, and a prayer...and the downpour began. Shortly after the "amen," we were off.

The Sasquatch 50K and 25K consist of one or two 25K loops and are most easily understood if you divide the loop into 4 pieces. The race begins with about 1/4 mile run down the run before hopping on the trail and immediately, a half mile climb begins without a break. "Welcome to the Sasquatch!!!" The first section is 5.1 miles and the other 3 are around 4mi each...just a bit less in each segment. Other than that major climb and some other climbs in that first section, there is also a "slicker-than-snot" downhill through the hemlocks just prior to AS #1. In the second section, there is another climb followed by 1-2 miles of road before appearing at AS #2...the best aid station, in my opinion. They were cheering like the finish which definitely put a smile on my face. Oh yea, the sasquatch was out there! Near some ledges, he was lurking and grunting...apparently disturbed by all the runners out there. I almost stopped for a photo op...but didn't. Seeing him sure did put a smile on my face. (Nice touch, Mike!) After AS #2, another very steep climb awaits. I was dreading that one both times today. Getting to AS #3 is a huge landmark, in my opinion. Only 4-ish miles remain to the finish for the 25K'ers and halfway point for us doing the 50K...AND, no real climbs. Somewhere around a mile to mile and a half to go to AS #4, a series of switchbacks begin that are rocky and steep. Oh how foolish it would be to not keep your eyes on the trail here! Eventually, I arrived at AS #4, refilled my Heed and grabbed my first real food of the day...well "sorta" real: PRINGLES! So so good. Other than that, I spent next to no time in the aid stations and only fueled with what I was carrying. I did have a drop bag here for the "just in case" things like a need to change a shirt or re-lube any areas that started to chafe due to the rain. Since I had zero physical issues (except ready for a shower, thanks to the caked on mud on my legs), I just got going on loop #2 while the bulk of runners around me headed towards their 25K finish. Course map is below. Nice elevation map, eh?! See that nearly vertical spike? That would be that ugly "hill" after leaving AS #2. It's maybe just a sliver more in climb than the initial climb that starts the race.
The 2nd loop was humbling. I finished the 1st loop 13 whopping minutes faster than last year. That's almost a minute faster per mile. The thing is...I was tired and knew I would not repeat that time nor even come close to it. Earlier this week at All Heart CrossFit, we did overhead squats. It was a serious burn, especially doing it for the first time ever at only 9+ weeks into doing CrossFit. I rested on Thursday/Friday from CrossFit but I still felt that workout today on the climbs. Anyway, I got moving and had only one guy pass me on the entire second loop. The power in my uphill climbs just waned from the first loop but I kept moving with a purpose. Arriving at AS #2, the roar of the aid station workers once again put a smile on my face. Right away, this conversation:
  • Timekeeper: You guys are really chasing each other out there!
  • Me: Huh?
  • Timekeeper: Yea, you're 10th overall!
  • Me: Wait a minute, that's impossible. This guy (pointing at myself) never does that.
  • Timekeeper: Look! (shows me his clipboard)
  • Me: Oh I know, I am just never anywhere near the front. I'm typically a mid-packer...but thank you!
I look over his shoulder and I see the next runner. Oh I'm the hunted! Better get moving. The runner had a bright orange hunting hat on...easy to spot through the woods. While I don't really care about placement of 10th overall vs. 11th, the competitive blood in me charged...and what waited for me? That stupid climb on tired legs! I was off...and that climb sucked, no doubt. No nice way to put it. All I cared about was getting to AS #4 because I knew the climbing was over and eventually, the fast, technical switchbacks were waiting for forte. That section of the course wasn't muddy and I love to dance over those jagged rocks while flying downhill. Knock on wood...I've never bit it within terrain like that. While I'm not a fan of looking over my shoulder, I looked...a LOT during the 2nd half of this 2nd loop...always looking for that orange hat. Man, didn't matter. As I was getting close to those switchbacks, I took a look at my Garmin and it read 5hrs, 44min. I let out a sigh because after my first loop being much faster than last year, I thought a course PR (personal record) was "easily" in reach. Well, I ate a big piece of humble pie here because last year, I ran a 5:47:49. Not gonna happen this year. I still didn't let up and figured I'd still do my very best and see where I end up. I got back down to AS #4 took the turn towards the finish at the other end of two parking lots. My wife and girls saw me and sprung into action and cheered me in to the finish. (She snapped the photo above just prior to the finish.) At the finish, the clock read 5:50:13...2min, 24sec behind last year's race. Unhappy? Not at all. I left it all out there! BUT, did I really finish 10th overall? I asked the finish line timekeepers who did verify it...I did! The official results aren't out yet but they mentioned that I was 2nd or 3rd in my age group, too. Regardless, I was on top of the world with that finish. I'm also curious where I end up in the Master's Division...those over 40 years old. I'm guessing 2nd or 3rd as well. Afterwards, I grabbed some finish line food, snapped some photos and waited for my friend to finish before heading back to the hotel to shower up and wash all the mud down the shower drain. Here are some other photos from the finish. Sorry, no course photos this year. With the rain at the start and prediction for more of it all day, the phone stayed nice and dry back at the hotel.

Unique, eh?! The race director had a brand made and he takes slices of trees and brands them. One of a kind!

Overall, another first class event put on by the West Virginia Mountain Trail Runners. I've now run in five events of theirs and in every case, it's been a fantastic experience. The aid stations were well stocked, the course was extremely well marked and simply not a thing missed. I just wish I saw some of my WVMTR friends more often. Recommend it? Of course.

As an aside, today marked another big milestone for me. Back in 1997, I ran my first marathon at the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, PA. Today was my 60th finish of a marathon or longer. This made my 32nd ultra marathon finish and I have 28 marathon finishes. (The full chronological list is at top of this blog under the "Racing Resume" menu.)  Ironically, I didn't run my first ultra until 2007 and I have more finishes, even though I started running marathons 10 years earlier. The future? I thought a lot about that out there today and posted the following on Facebook just a few hours ago: "Had a lot of alone time (almost 6hrs worth) today to consider my goals and the "why" behind them. I think that sometimes we/I/you pick goals because we think others expect us to...but if our heart isn't in it, perhaps a rethinking of said goals should be done. Passion is fleeting and moves from this to that over time...our goals should follow suit." Today was a blast and I gave it my everything...I'm certainly passionate about the sport. However, my mind did wander quite a bit about that passion moving forward. I want "it" to lead me. Otherwise, joy will be absent no matter how far or fast I run. For now, the Sasquatch who continues to reign as the world champion in the game of hide-n-seek, delivered plenty of joy...and I'm better and stronger because of it.


Kim said...

Woohoo Top Ten!!! I think Crossfit is def working for you-congrats!!!

aldo said...

As a West Virginia runner & racer who has ran Sasquatch & other trail runs & ultras, I liked your blog & appreciate your favorable comments about the race & the WVMTR. CONTRATULATIONS on your effort.

Anonymous said...

hehe - I WAS chasing you! im the one in the orange Beanie and you always got me on the uphills....I got closer on the downs.....Nice race and thankyou for the chase! Em

Nick B said...

That's awesome! Oh that orange I was leaving AS2, I saw you coming across and I knew they'd tell you what they told me...what place you were in and something like "you can catch him!"...I never looked behind me so many times in a race! Great job to you as well and if I'm correct, 2nd overall female!! WAY TO GO!